Lives of the fellows

Boris Senior

b.24 April 1923 d.26 April 2012
MB BCh Wits(1946) MRCP(1953) MRCP Edin(1953) FRCP(1972)

Boris Senior was professor of paediatrics (endocrinology) at Tufts University, Boston, USA. The only child of Aaron Senior, a company director, and Zena Senior née Tartakowskaya, he was born in Priluki, Russia, but at the age of 18 months emigrated with his family to South Africa. Boris grew up in Germiston outside Johannesburg and attended Germiston High School. He went on to study medicine at the University of Witwatersrand, graduating in 1946, and was a house physician in Johannesburg for the next two years. Boris then went to Israel, in 1948, to fight for the formation of the new nation.

He decided to pursue a career in paediatrics, and did two years of further training at the children’s service at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston. Boris then became interested in endocrinology and trained with Charles Dent [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.148] at University College Hospital, London. While in London he gained his membership of both the Royal College of Physicians of London and of Edinburgh.

In 1954 he returned to South Africa, married Dorrit Speyer, and became a paediatric consultant in private practice and at the Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children and the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Feeling the constraints of life in South Africa, the couple, with their three young sons, emigrated to the US in 1960. After two years as a clinical and research fellow in paediatric endocrinology at MGH, he joined the faculty of Boston University Medical School in 1962. A year later, he was recruited to join the faculty of Tufts University School of Medicine as an assistant professor and chief of the division of paediatric endocrinology and metabolism at Tufts Medical Center, Floating Hospital for Children. He was promoted to associate professor in 1966, professor in 1970 and professor emeritus in 1989.

Senior was the first to describe the association of retinitis pigmentosa with medullary cystic disease, in what became known as Senior-Loken syndrome. Another early work, in collaboration with Charles Dent, delineated the pathophysiology of cystinuria and laid the foundation for the treatment of this disorder. His first paper after joining Tufts faculty, co-authored with Sydney Gellis, on lipodystrophy, is a classic work on this disease (‘The syndromes of total lipodystrophy and of partial lipodystrophy’ Pediatrics. 1964 Apr;33:593-612). Later he described glycogen storage disease type 1b and established functional tests to differentiate between the various forms of liver glycogenosis (types I, III and VI). Boris then turned his interest to carbohydrate and fat metabolism. He advanced our understanding of the pathophysiology of hypoglycaemia by emphasising the importance of ketones as alternate fuel and their role in the maintenance of normoglycaemia. Other seminal works included the first report of haemolytic-uremic syndrome in the American paediatric literature, and the first description of the syndrome that was later recognised as fetal alcohol syndrome.

Senior established the paediatric endocrinology fellowship at Tufts and was a mentor and role model for generations of fellows, residents and students. He was a member of the American Pediatric Society and Society for Pediatric Research, as well as a founding member of the Pediatric Endocrine Society in the US. He was also a much sought-after visiting professor and lecturer.

To his friends and family Boris was a compassionate and caring man; he was a loving, devoted husband and father. He did not suffer fools lightly and was impatient with colleagues and trainees who did not meet his high standards. Nonetheless, all who knew him professionally acknowledged his intellect, vast fund of knowledge and his dedication to teaching and to his patients. Boris was intellectually curious and was a life-long learner. Outside medicine, he had a wide range of interests, from collecting African tribal art and fine wines, to fly-fishing and religion and politics.

After retiring from Tufts, Boris focused his intellect on, and devoted time to, other interests. He spent hours tying lures to be used on fly-fishing expeditions with his sons. He expanded his expertise as a wine lover. He studied Spanish, followed politics and, with Dorrit, travelled all around the world. Through the years he also revised and refined his views on religion.

With his intellect, knowledge, interest in teaching and love of life, Boris Senior not only helped expand our knowledge of medicine, he also left this world a better place. He was survived by his wife Dorrit, sons Alan, Jeffrey and Paul, and six grandchildren.

Ab Sadeghi-Nejad

[Brezniak Rodman Funeral Directors – Dr Boris Senior – accessed 9 December 2013]

(Volume XII, page web)

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